Shelley Ross has seen a lot and done a lot in her 40 years in the news business. In one of her earliest TV jobs, the former executive producer of Good Morning America, Primetime Live, and CBS’s The Early Show, was hired by Roger Ailes as a segment producer on NBC’s Tomorrow show.
In a 3,500-word essay published in the Daily Beast, Ross recounts an early meeting with Ailes:
When did you first discover you were sexy?” Roger began. My head suddenly dropped like a marionette and I could no longer make eye contact. I could only manage to stare at my feet as I answered, “I am finding this conversation very embarrassing.” I thought and hoped that would be it. He sent his signal. I sent mine back, I believed clear enough but allowing for no hurt feelings or bruised ego. Maybe he would try one more line—then, incident over. But that’s not what happened. Roger was very persistent as he continued to explain how much he believed in loyalty and how much he believed the best expression of that loyalty comes in the form of a “sexual alliance.”
Three NBC lawyers intervened. Ailes apologized. And Ross accepted the job where, among other things, she secured the first prison interview in 10 years with Charles Manson.
This was not a romantic or flirtatious conversation. “Predatory” is not quite accurate either. Roger expressed a true philosophical conviction that this would be mutually beneficial for us both, that he was looking for a partnership and it was somewhat special that he had chosen me. So perhaps “cultish” needs to be in the mix.
During the summer of 2012, Roger phoned me to say he was recommending me for a big job—to run CNN. (The job went to Jeff Zucker.) That same year, when Roger learned I was battling cancer, he sent me a giant basket from Rao’s containing six pastas and six different sauces.
Ross ends her story of witnessing a decades-long “pervasive culture populated by more than a few morally repugnant executives,” with a solution.
My big idea is to have something in every workplace akin to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissions after the official end of apartheid in 1994. Back then, in the immediate aftermath of apartheid, those who were identified as victims of gross human rights violations were invited to give statements and even speak publicly about their experiences. Their perpetrators were also invited to give testimony and given a chance to request amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution.
“Fox News should take the lead in a kind of sexual harassment Truth and Reconciliation project,” Ross writes. “I’ll help organize it.”